August 11, 2019: The Four Secrets of Life Abundant: The Journey To Joy

August 11, 2019                                                                                   Rev.  Rhonda Blevins, DMIN

 The Four Secrets of Life Abundant 
Secret Two: The Journey to Joy 
Philippians 4:8-9 

 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

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 Welcome to week two of our 4-part series entitled “The Four Secrets of Life Abundant.” You know where that phrase comes from, right? It’s based on one of my favorite passages of scripture . . . so much so that I used it as the cornerstone of my doctoral thesis. It’s from John 10:10, one of the places where Jesus articulates his life’s mission. Jesus tells his disciples, in no uncertain terms, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” 

 Life abundant. That sounds, well, wonderful doesn’t it? Mega-church preacher Joel Osteen has done quite well tapping into the human desire for the good life with his 2014 book, Your Best Life Now. The book became a #1 bestseller on the New York Times bestseller list, staying on the list for over two years, selling over 8 million copies. Not only is the book available in paperback, hardback and audio, there are spin-offs: devotional guides, journals, and calendars. And for the low, low price of $21.85, the discerning shopper can even have their very own Joel Osteen “Your Best Life Now” board game!

 I’m not knocking Joel Osteen, rather, I’m jealous! Why didn’t I think of that?

 It seems that life abundant is everyone’s goal, from the time of Jesus until this very day. We want to be happy. Successful marketers know this. My kids love happy meals. My husband and I love happy hour. It’s the same concept that inspired one of our nation’s founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, to appropriate one of the most famous lines in the Declaration of Independence: 

 We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

 Last week we talked about the pathway to peace from the letter Paul wrote to the church at Philippi. One pathway to peace, if you remember, is to banish worry. Listen again to the text from Philippians 4:4-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” 

 Banish worry; embrace peace.

 This week we’re talking about the journey to joy . . . the pursuit of happiness, which Paul spells out in the next lines of his letter to Philippi. From Philippians 4:8-9: 

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” 

 Now think about who’s writing this and about his circumstance. Paul is not writing from the beaches of Greece or a mountaintop retreat: he’s writing from prison. He had every right to get down on life—to focus on the negative. But as you can tell, he’s made the opposite choice. To focus on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable. And not only that, but to instruct his friends to do the same. The result of this kind of thinking? The book of Philippians is widely considered the most joyful of Paul’s 13 letters. He uses the word “joy” or some form of it 16 times . . . and it’s a short letter. With phrases like, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice!” Straight out of this same chapter of Philippians.

 Paul writing these positive words in this joyful letter reminds us that though we may not choose our circumstance, we can choose our attitude. 

 A few years ago, I was inspired by a friend and former parishioner named Renee. Doctors

discovered a spot on Renee’s pancreas, likely cancer.  Listen to what she wrote to her friends on Facebook: 

 Dear Friends, thanks to many of you who are already lifting prayers in my behalf. With many silver linings to report despite this time of uncertainty, a “tumor” has been found on my pancreas. We are still in fact-finding mode as doctors determine more information and course of treatment. I am a cancer survivor (January 1990). This is a little more frightening, but at the same time, I feel wrapped in God’s care and goodness. I have found Him to be very present and reassuring. Stewart is learning to cook, just in case he has to take charge— and that has brought such joy. I feel like I’m watching a play! He’s been precious and supportive. We ask for your prayers and positive thoughts and we send you all a big hug of thanks.

 Paul from the confines of prison—my friend with an uncertain future—and both of them radiate joy. How? They made the choice. 

 We don’t always choose what life sends our way. Paul probably didn’t choose prison and Renee certainly didn’t choose to have a tumor on her pancreas. Christian tradition holds that Paul died a martyr, from beheading. My friend Renee—it was pancreatic cancer. After a valiant fight, the cancer won and I lost my dear friend.

 There are probably some situations in your life that you did not and would never choose. Let’s face it, sometimes life can be so very hard. But know that within those hardships, you are not without choice. You have the power within you to choose how to respond . . . emotionally, physically, spiritually. 

 I remember when my youngest son was just an infant, five or six months old. For several months he’d had little choice. He pretty much had to stay wherever his daddy or I placed him. But at five or six months he was rolling! Back to front—front to back—and he would roll everywhere! One day I placed him on a blanket on the floor to play while I took a shower—one of those showers that mothers of infants take—a couple of minutes tops. When I got out of the shower and went to find him . . . he wasn’t there! He had rolled all the way into another room! 

 My infant son didn’t have a choice about his circumstance . . . he was placed on the floor exactly where I wanted. But he had a choice to roll where he wanted . . . and roll he did!

 So you’ve been dealt a lousy circumstance? You may not be able to roll out of it like my son did, but you can choose how to roll through it! 

 My friend Carolyn once told me about a cousin of hers who was in a car wreck. Everyone in the car died except her: her cousin, her son, her daughter. She was left paraplegic. That was several years ago. Carolyn goes to visit her regularly, and she is always amazed at how positive her cousin seems. So one day she asked her, “With all you’ve been through, how do you stay so positive?” Her cousin responded, “I give myself one day a month. One day a month I throw myself the biggest pity party you’ve ever seen. Every other day, whenever I start to feel sorry for myself, I stop. I say, ‘No, it’s not pity day.’ Then let it go.’” 

 Carolyn tells me this cousin is a delight to be around.

  Paul writes to his friends, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

 Back to Thomas Jefferson. In a letter to a friend, Jefferson wrote, “Happiness the aim of life. Virtue the foundation of happiness.” [1] Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable . . . virtue. The foundation of happiness, the enduring kind we call joy. Think about such things.

 What are you thinking about these days? What voices are you allowing airtime in your brain? Are they true, are they noble, are they right, are they pure, are they lovely, are they admirable? In today’s culture, it seems that many people prefer to fix their attention on what is most entertaining as opposed to what is most noble. Many would rather read a conspiracy theory instead of a well-sourced article by a reputable source. Peddlers of propaganda are greatly rewarded while the prophets and poets struggle to get by. We must awaken to this reality. We must be discerning. We must be “wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.”[2] We must carefully guard who and what we allow in our heads.  

 Here’s a pro tip: turn off cable news. Read your news; listen to music. Let’s all be hyper aware that cable news networks must sensationalize the news in order to keep their viewership up. I haven’t turned on a cable news show in months (my husband has on occasion—he hasn’t gotten the memo.) I don’t think I’ve missed any major news story, and my head is in a much better place without all the punditry and spin. Read your news; listen to music. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right . . . pure, lovely, admirable.” Try it this week. Turn off cable news this week. Turn off talk radio. If you pledge to turn off cable news and talk radio for a year, I’ll pay for your newspaper subscription. No joke. In fact, I’ve printed out pledge sheets . . .

 On your journey to joy you must banish darkness . . . negativity, deceit, immorality, ugliness. Banish darkness; embrace joy. Christ came so that we might have life and have it more abundantly. Choose joy. No matter your circumstance. Choose joy. And this will be our theme:

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart

Where? Down in my heart

Where? Down in my heart

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart

Where? Down in my heart to stay

And I’m so happy, so very happy

I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart

And I’m so happy, so very happy, happy, happy

I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart

 

    [1] Carol V. Hamilton, “Why Did Thomas Jefferson Change ‘Property’ to ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’?” January 27, 2008, https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/46460.

 

[2] Matthew 10:16

Debbie Wilson